MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A Minnesota jury convicted Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer, on murder charges for the May 2020 death of George Floyd — a Black man — after kneeling on his neck and chest for over nine minutes in May 2020.
A 12-juror panel of Hennepin County residents found Chauvin guilty of all three charges brought against him: unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin, dressed in a grey suit and blue tie, appeared nervous as Judge Peter Cahill read the judge’s guilty verdict to the court. He was immediately placed in the custody of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office after the reading.
“I’d like to thank you … for not only jury service, but heavy-duty jury service,” Cahill told the jury.
“I could do nothing but watch, especially in that courtroom, over and over again, as my brother was murdered,” Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd said in an emotional statement. He compared his brother’s death to that of Daunte Wright, who was shot by a Brooklyn Center Police Department officer April 11.
“We’ll get justice. And I told you, we’re gonna fight for you too,” he said to Wright’s family.
Followig the announcement that the jury verdict was forthcoming, the previously near-empty streets filled with people coming to protest or making their way out of downtown. What was previously a small crowd gathered outside the courthouse swelled to a crowd of about 100, chanting slogans like “Say his name — George Floyd” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down.”
After Cahill read the verdict, the crowd around the courthouse swelled threefold and erupted in cheers and chants. Cars honked horns for blocks around, and local politicians and activists made speeches under the sounds of blasting music and celebratory whoops.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted Chauvin, gave a speech thanking his team for their “long, hard, painstaking work” but said there was more to be done. “I would not call today’s verdict justice, however,” he said. “Because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice, and now the cause of justice is in your hands. And when I say your hands, I mean the hands of the people of the United States.”
“It’s progress from where this city’s come from,” Ceejay Jackson, 50, said. A lifelong Minneapolis resident, he said he was pleased with the verdict, but that it was hard to get too excited.
He held a sign showing an image of Minnesota made up of the names of those killed by police.
“There’s a little more accountability because of media — without that, this wouldn’t even happen. …I’m optimistic in that manner, that maybe generations to come won’t have to experience this kind of abuse of authority,” Jackson said.
“I still feel sad, because I know too many people who have already suffered from this kind of abuse, and nothing happened. You know. I’m optimistic, though,” he added.
Another group gathered at George Floyd Square, the part-time block party, full-time memorial autonomous zone at the site where Floyd died on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis.
Chauvin now faces up to 40 years in prison, but may not serve that many.
Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines recommend 12 years and 6 months for unintentional second-degree murder, the same sentence for third-degree murder and four years for manslaughter. He will be sentenced in eight weeks.
Prosecutors have, however, moved for several upward sentencing departures.
Their reasons include that Chauvin killed Floyd in front of several minors, one of them a nine-year-old girl, that Floyd’s situation as a handcuffed person in Chauvin’s custody crying out for breath made him particularly vulnerable, that Chauvin treated Floyd with cruelty and that he abused a position of authority in killing Floyd. Prosecutors also argued that the contributions to Floyd’s deadly arrest by Chauvin’s fellow former officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng supported an upward departure; all three face aiding-and-abetting charges and are scheduled to go to trial before Cahill in August.
Floyd’s death, along with those of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, was the flashpoint for protests, riots and eventually a handful of police reforms in Minnesota and across the United States in the summer of 2020.
Minnesota banned chokeholds, already against Minneapolis’ policy, and aggressive “warrior training” programs despite a state Legislature in habitual partisan deadlock. Nationally, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would end qualified immunity for law enforcement but has yet to pass the Senate, where Democrats have only the slimmest possible majority.
In Minneapolis, a veto-proof majority of City Council members vowed to “begin the process of ending” the city’s police department less than two weeks after Floyd’s death, but several have defected from that promise.
Minneapolis eventually wound up releasing an extra $6.4 million to its police department to hire recruits in February. After a setback last year from the city’s unelected charter commission, the Council voted 11-2 in March to advance a ballot initiative that would change the city’s charter to allow for fewer police and reduce mayoral power over the department in favor of council oversight. The activist group Yes 4 Minneapolis has also gathered over 20,000 signatures on a petition to place its similar charter amendment on the 2021 ballot, surpassing the threshold necessary to get it there.
Chauvin is the second police officer to be convicted of murder in Minnesota history. Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American, was convicted of third-degree murder in 2018 for shooting and killing Justine Ruczyck Damond, a white woman. Noor’s case is currently being appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court; if reversed, the decision would likely jeopardize Chauvin’s third-degree murder conviction.
Chauvin is also only the second police officer in American history to be convicted for the murder of a Black person on duty; the first was Chicago officer Jason Van Dyke for the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan MacDonald. Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019 for the shooting death of her unarmed Black neighbor, Botham Jean, in his apartment, but Guyger was not on duty at the time.
The verdict struck an embattled Minneapolis.
Hundreds marched in protest after closing arguments on Monday, demanding both a guilty verdict and broader change. Meanwhile, members of the National Guard stand watch downtown and in nearby Brooklyn Center.
The law enforcement presence, already fortified in anticipation of civil unrest after the verdict as part of the multijurisdictional “Operation Safety Net,” ballooned after Democratic Governor Tim Walz announced a peacetime emergency on Monday and called in $9 million in reinforcements from state patrols in Nebraska and Ohio.
Online, Facebook said it would be treating Minneapolis as a “high-risk location” in advance of the verdict, removing content threatening or calling for violence on its platforms Facebook and Instagram.
“Our teams are working around the clock to look for potential threats both on and off of Facebook and Instagram so we can protect peaceful protests and limit content that could lead to civil unrest or violence,” said Monica Bickert, vice president of content policy at Facebook, in a statement. The company will also be removing content that mocks or celebrates Floyd’s death, Bickert added, saying that Floyd had been made a public figure involuntarily while Chauvin had voluntarily placed himself in the public eye.
Confrontations with protesters have cooled in recent days, but the first week after Wright’s killing saw hundreds of arrests, nightly curfews and massive clouds of tear gas at the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
Ashley Buffington and Kalam Kochnaff stood a little back from some of the speakers, near where some protesters grilled and passed out free burgers. They had met Daunte Wright’s mother shortly after her son’s shooting, they said, and were alarmed by his death and the police response to protests.
“It wasn’t necessary. They could have took him out of the car, physically,” Buffington said of the shooting. “We’re not saying that it wasn’t wrong what he did, but he should have been in jail if he had a warrant, not dead.”
“Being on the force for 26 years, you should know what’s a gun and what is a taser,” Kochnaff said. “I mean, come on.”
As to the police presence, they said, they thought it was excessive. Buffington said she was concerned that her two Black sons might be considered a threat by the National Guard.
“I think it’s a scare tactic. They have the National Guard and police in areas where nothing’s going on,” she said.
Kochnaff pointed out that they were nowhere to be seen near the peaceful demonstration-turned-party outside the courthouse. “They’re not covering the peaceful part of it,” Buffington said.
Protesters expressed their outrage in the streets while journalists expressed it online and in federal court, where a judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday night reprimanding law enforcement for attacks on members of the press.
A fresh photo of police pepper-spraying a pair of French journalists in yellow “press” vests and carrying a television camera appeared in a letter from the ACLU filed later that night.
Television footage aired live by local CBS-affiliate WCCO from reporter Reg Chapman, one of WCCO’s two Black on-air TV personalities, who had been detained and made to kneel on the ground. Photojournalist Mark VanCleave’s hand was also broken by a less-lethal round that night, even after police rounded up media to photograph them and check credentials.
Walz held a closed-door meeting with law enforcement and undisclosed owners of certain local media establishments Saturday. Reporters were not allowed in, but Walz announced afterward that law enforcement had agreed not to continue taking photos of, cataloging journalists or ordering them to disperse. Smaller protests continued the following nights without substantial incident, and no curfew was called Monday night.